The hierarchical triple body approximation has useful applications to a variety of systems from planetary and stellar scales to supermassive black holes. In this approximation, the energy of each orbit is separately conserved and therefore the two semi-major axes are constants. On timescales much larger than the orbital periods, the orbits exchange angular momentum which leads to eccentricity and orientation (i.e., inclination) oscillations. The orbits’ eccentricity can reach extreme values leading to a nearly radial motion, which can further evolve into short orbit periods and merging binaries. Furthermore, the orbits’ mutual inclination may change dramatically from pure prograde to pure retrograde leading to misalignment and a wide range of inclinations. This dynamical behavior is coined as the “eccentric Kozai-Lidov” mechanism. The behavior of such a system is exciting, rich and chaotic in nature. Furthermore, these dynamics are accessible from a large part of the triple body parameter space and can be applied to diverse range of astrophysical settings and used to gain insights to many puzzles.
Thu, 28 Jan 16
Comments: 60 pages 25 figures, to appear in Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, comments welcome